Israeli Scholar Translates Talmud

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM, Israel (AP) - The perpetually sleep-deprived scholar sits slouched in a large chair, a pipe to his lips, his long white beard curled into knots, strands of hair poking out from beneath his black skullcap. Lacking a rabbi's traditional booming voice, he speaks so softly one often has to lean in closer to hear his insights.But Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's message resonates clearly to the far corners of the Jewish world. The 73-year-old rabbinical scholar has just completed a monumental 45-year project hailed in Jewish scholarly circles as a breakthrough of Biblical proportions - the most comprehensive translation and commentary of the Talmud, with its 63 basic sections and nearly 6,000 pages.The Talmud is the central text of mainstream Judaism, detailing rabbinical discussions over the centuries pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs, and history. But because of its complexity, obscurity, and the fact that much of it is written in the ancient Aramaic language, the rarified text has for centuries remained beyond the scope of comprehension of all but a select group of scholarly Jews.Steinsaltz coins his quest to educate Jews "Let my people know,'' a play on Moses' passage from Genesis: "Let my people go.'' Now, thanks to his 45-volume series, anyone with a command of Hebrew can study the sacred text."I do believe that this knowledge, it is not just knowledge of history, it is knowledge of ourselves, it is our own picture,'' Steinsaltz told the Associated Press at his modest Jerusalem office."Talmud is a book that has no real parallel... it is a constant search for truth, for absolute truth.''Steinsaltz has spent most of his life doing just that.For four and a half decades, for as long as 16 hours a day, he labored over the ancient texts, translating them from the Aramaic into modern Hebrew - and parts into English, Spanish, French, and Russian as well.More importantly, he added his own explanations of phrases, terms, and concepts, as well as listing the rulings of Jewish law derived from the text.There have been other, partial translations into English and other languages, but none are as comprehensive or have as extensive a commentary. …